WASHINGTON (June 30, 2020) —Government and correctional leaders have rightly responded to COVID-19 by reducing incarcerated youth populations to limit the spread of the virus, while also adapting their existing paradigms to better supervise young people in the changed environment.

The R Street Institute’s latest policy study documents these changes in youth probation and articulates the need for both short-term and long-term policy changes improve the overall efficacy of probation and supervision.

“Concerns about contagion have already required a substantial shift from normal probation protocols and will continue to do so as we prepare for a possible new wave of cases in the fall,” says Nila Bala, associate director of criminal justice and civil liberties policy at the R Street Institute, who co-authored the paper with Emily Mooney, resident fellow of criminal justice and civil liberties policy. Bala continues: “However, this challenge also presents us with a unique opportunity to examine probation policies and outcomes ever more closely and to reorient the goals of the youth justice system.”

The paper explains:

  • Juvenile correctional leaders should continue the trend of decarceration and diversion long-after the pandemic.The public health threat associated with incarceration has pressed policymakers to increase their use of community-based accountability options in lieu of incarceration, except when absolutely necessary for public safety.
  • Jurisdictions should incorporate some virtual options permanently as they allow for more frequent and substantive engagement.Jurisdictions have found that phone and virtual connection options can ease the traditional burdens faced by young people on probation. Building an infrastructure for providing probation services virtually is not only vital for the current pandemic, but will be useful for future crises. It also allows probation officers easier and, in some cases, more frequent contact with the young people they supervise.
  • This pandemic has empowered probation officials to be more innovative and to work collaboratively with families to solve complex and dynamic challenges. This flexibility and focus on partnering with and building the strengths of the family unit, as well as the young person on probation, should continue during and after the pandemic.

Read the full policy paper, “Youth Probation in the Time of Covid-19,” here.